Kimani Stewart-Baynes dominated League1 Ontario’s reserve division. The standout Maryland freshman scored 17 goals in 14 matches with his U-19 Vaughan Soccer Club team, leading his squad to a league title in 2022.

When looking toward the next step in his career, the Toronto native considered his options to either continue in Canada or come to the United States and play collegiate soccer.

Former Terp Carmine Isacco coaches at Vaughan. With his guidance, Stewart-Baynes took a familiar path for Vaughan alumni like Dayne St. Clair, Malcolm Johnston and current teammate Stefan Copetti — choosing to head south of the border and play for Maryland men’s soccer under coach Sasho Cirovski.

Isacco is a well-known name in Maryland history. He was its goalkeeper for four seasons before Cirovski took over the program in 1993. Cirovski said Isacco was one of his first assistant coaches and the pair has stayed friends since Isacco’s time in College Park.

Now back in Canada, his home country, Isacco is director of soccer at Vaughan. He previously coached youth teams like the League1 Ontario squad Stewart-Baynes starred in.

It takes a lot for a player to transition from youth to collegiate soccer, especially at a high-profile program like Maryland. Isacco saw Stewart-Baynes possessed the potential to clear that hurdle.

[A tale of two halves leaves Maryland men’s soccer with a disappointing draw]

“No one’s questioned his individual technical ability or his individual athleticism … right then and there, he had those boxes ticked,” Isacco said. “Maryland is that program to get him to that next level.”

Copetti also saw a bright future. He played at Vaughan a few years before Stewart-Baynes — the pair just missed out on playing with each other in attack.

“I’d seen him play a few times, and knew he was a great player,” Copetti said. “When Sash asked me about him, I said, ‘Yeah, we gotta get him here.’ He’s everything we need in a winger. He’s patient, he’s athletic, he’s got a good knack for goals.”

Stewart-Baynes has drawn on what he learned during his time with Vaughan and is using his body more to adjust to a more intense game at the collegiate level.

Copetti’s isn’t as rapid as Stewart-Baynes’, but he excels playing quick one-two touches and passing to escape congested areas on the pitch, skills he thanks Vaughan for teaching him.

“They’re big on development … especially the technical aspect of things,” Copetti said of Vaughan. “We spent a lot of time working on playing in tight areas and keeping possession of the ball, and that’s definitely carried over into my kind of play style in college.”

[Maryland men’s soccer surrenders two-goal lead in 2-2 tie with No. 19 Michigan State]

Cirovski notices the readiness of players that come from the Canadian club.

Major League Soccer academies and other youth clubs throughout the United States attempt to produce players ready to sign deals, according to the Maryland coach. Vaughan does things differently. Cirovski appreciates Vaughan for turning its athletes into “the right type” of student-athletes.

Stewart-Baynes is weeks away from closing his freshman campaign at Maryland. While the shift to Maryland was different in terms of play styles, the forward hasn’t lost his eye for the goal. He’s netted three times and registered five assists so far during his first season as a Terp.

Copetti will conclude his Maryland career at the season’s end. Right now, he has 10 career goals and four career assists.

If they hope to follow their fellow Vaughan alum, the next step after Maryland could be professional soccer — whether that means getting drafted into the MLS like Johnston and St. Clair, or representing their home country of Canada at the World Cup like St. Clair did in 2022.